New Jersey Jewish News
JCC to close its facility in Ewing
An era in the life of the Jewish community of Princeton Mercer Bucks will come to an end in September, when the Jewish Community Center of the Delaware Valley shuts the doors of its aging facility on Lower Ferry Road in Ewing after more than half a century there.
The JCC board voted to close the facility at its May 9 meeting, forced to face the realities of declining membership, overwhelming debt, and demographic isolation, according to Paul Schindel of Lawrenceville, JCC first vice president and cochair of the Jewish Community Campus Development Council.
The vote means that all programming and activities inside the Ewing facility will cease at the conclusion of this summers sessions of the Abrams Day Camp. However, the camp is expected to continue, and JCC programming will go on at alternate venues throughout the region.
Despite the decision to close the building, a glimmer of hope remains that some Jewish programming may continue there a hope fostered by the fact that negotiations are under way, with whom JCC officials declined to say, who are interested in leasing or purchasing the facility from the JCC and transforming it into a regional center. Meanwhile, Schindel said in a telephone interview, the JCC board is facing reality.
Ewing has been in decline for many years, Schindel said. The trend in Ewing has been very consistently on a downward spiral. It brings us to a point where the economics are such that keeping the building open is too expensive to do.
The JCC board has for many years given a wonderful and tireless effort to maintaining the Ewing programming and activities, he added. The process of seeing the numbers decline, seeing the enrollment and dollars decline, has been a very sad and frustrating one for a lot of us. Its been disheartening.
However, Schindel said, at the May 9 meeting, the JCC board also voted to dissolve and to form a new board of interested individuals who will come together when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
In particular, Schindel said, the boards of the JCC and the United Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks have made an ongoing commitment to continue funding two JCC programs the Golden Age Club for seniors and the Carousel program for developmentally disabled teens and adults.
On the other hand, he said, there will be no Ring Nursery School and Kindergarten in the fall an outcome he described as a very sad thing.
There was a great deal of effort put in by the JCC staff, the board members, and Ring parents in an effort to find alternate space for the Ring Nursery School and Kindergarten, Schindel said. Ultimately, those were not fruitful. But its important to note that thats a reflection of the need for a new school at a new location. Its yet another reinforcement of the need for a campus in the first place.
Schindel said that he feels personally saddened by the decision to close the Ewing facility. But I also see it as much as a beginning as an end, because it really allows us the entire Jewish community to turn our attention to the future, and the future is being developed on Clarksville Road in West Windsor.
A campus CEO
In fact, said PMB federation executive director Andrew Frank, the community moved one step closer to that future on May 22 with the appointment of Drew Staffenberg of Voorhees to the position of executive director of the project to develop the campus. Staffenberg, who most recently served as president and CEO of the Jewish Family and Childrens Service of Greater Philadelphia, has many years of executive experience with Jewish federations and community centers in Vancouver and Calgary in Canada.
Having a new campus project executive director will energize and focus this community to get the campus in operation, Frank said. Drews expertise, experience, passion, and dedication will be instrumental in moving the project from dream to reality.
At the same time, Frank said, he looks upon the closing of the JCCs facility in Ewing with great sorrow.
I have a great respect and admiration for the JCCs staff and board, he said, and its sad to see an agency with this kind of history, professionalism, and dedication going through this kind of difficult transition. On the other hand, I eagerly look forward to the new campus.
Other community leaders expressed a similar mix of feelings.
Yes, its a disturbing time, said JCC board president Howard Cohen of Lawrenceville. We have to pack up our tent and move from where we are .
I think theres a large emotional attachment [to the Ewing facility], and itll be devastating to most of the current users, he said. But I dont see this as an end. I see this as a beginning of something new and better. Were on the ground floor of something huge a new campus and first-class facilities.
Although many of the current users of the Ewing facility are dejected about the turn of events, Cohen added, many others are upbeat about the prospect of having a state-of-the-art facility within the next three to five years. He praised the foresight of those who came together five years ago to explore the possibilities of creating a new campus.
In that sense, were five years ahead of the game, he said. We already have the new site, and we have fund-raising well under way. The community saw the handwriting on the wall.
The good new is that once we end this chapter, well be starting another chapter, exploring alternatives to maintain a presence in the community, he said. Were down, but were not out.
Bob Frey, longtime JCC executive director, also had a bittersweet take on the turn of events.
On one level, its sad. Ive been here for close to 20 years, and the facility and the community are near and dear to my heart, Frey said as he stood outside the Ewing facility on a beautiful spring day. Having said that, Im excited that the JCC is going to be moving to a new facility that will be state-of-the-art and that will have up-to-date facilities the community will greatly benefit from in the future.
Another JCC board member, Jennifer Millner of Lawrenceville, also stressed the positive. The JCC is not closing only the building, she said. Its a real important message. The JCC is not losing its presence in the community.
Millner, whose family has been very active in the JCC, the Ring Nursery School, and the Abrams Day Camp, also expressed a mixture of feelings in reaction to the closing of the Ewing facility.
We have really been bogged down by the building, she said, so closure of the building is going to allow the Jewish community to concentrate on the transition to West Windsor. It gives us the ability to focus our attention on making that dream a reality. On that hand, I think its very, very exciting.
But there is only one dimension to the reaction of Golden Age Club treasurer Rae LeRoy to the closing of the Ewing facility. I would say pretty safely that all the seniors feel badly about it, said LeRoy, a resident of Ewing who has been a JCC member for more than four decades.
Ive talked to people whove been involved in the JCC all the way back to Stockton Street, she said, referring to the original location of the JCC in Trenton. They love the center. They feel they helped to build it. Now, were faced with everything closing down. We dont know if were going to have a place for our meetings, our discussion groups, our exercise groups. So theres a great deal of uncertainty and a great deal of unhappiness.
I know Bob Frey is trying very hard to have a place for us, she added. But personally, the feeling is that the people in the Golden Age Club are getting older. A lot of them use walkers. Some of them use canes. I think they just feel like its the end of an era.
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